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Macaw Clay Licks Peru
In the 1980's the Manu Wilderness was known only to a handful of research scientists and occasional explorers. The New York Zoological Society (now called The Wildlife Conservation Society) was responsible for most of the early research done in Manu on Parrots and Macaws.

The diet of the Amazonian macaw is made up primarily of seeds. These brightly colored birds, found through the rain forests of the Amazon, dextrously pluck fruit off trees, tear it open and dig out the hard seed at the center. No seed seems to be too hard for the bill of the macaw to crack, and their diet is quite varied, from the seeds of the mahognay to those of the rubber tree. Macaws are curious birds and will try to eat just about anything resembling a seed that they can get their beak on. But this could lead to serious problems in the rain forest, where some of the deadliest poisons in the world are manufactured by its botanical inhabitants.

In 1984 biologists came across an exciting behavior of the parrots and macaws: on a specific bank of the Manu river within the Manu National Park these birds would congregate and eat the cliff-side clay. Many biologists believed this was the only place in the world for this "clay lick" behavior, called a "ccollpa".

Macaw Clay licks Research Top of Page

Research suggests that many of the seeds macaws eat are in fact toxic, particularly in the dry season, (August through September), when the picking are especially slim. So, how then do these birds survive this fatal fare? After years of macaw behavior studies in the Amazon, it was noticed that the birds spent at least two to three hours per day at a clay and mineral lick along a riverbed. At first, thought was that the birds were just using the clay lick to obtain minerals their diet might not otherwise provide. But the discovery of the toxic elements in the seeds brought new light to the Macaw desire to eat clay.

Now researchers postulate that these birds counter the tannin and alkaloid loaded seeds they eat by spending time daily ingesting clay. This strategy, which is also used by Indians in the high Andes, helps to detoxify the birds by binding to the compounds and aiding in their elimination from the body.

Subsequent research has discover clay licks on the Madre de Dios River near the Manu Wildlife Center and 120 miles down the Madre de Dios in the Tambopata region of Peru. By 1994 18 major licks were discovered. Reliable reports continue to come from the native peoples for the existence of 15 or more clay licks on the riverbanks of inaccessible areas of the Manu forests, one of the most biologically diverse rain forests in the world.

During 1999-2000 3 major licks were discovered on the lower Urubamba River, part of the tribal community lands of the Machiguenga Indians of Timpia, one of the most remote areas of the Peruvian Amazon that is accessible from Cusco.

Macaw Clay Licks Timpia Top of Page

In the Lower Urubamba lives a community of 500 Amazonian Indians from the Machiguenga ethnic group. This community, which is called Timpia ("tim-PEE-a"), owns about 70 000 acres of prime foothill rain forest just west of Peru's famous Manu National Park. Timpia unilaterally banned all hunting and capture of macaws and other parrots in 1995 to try to attract support from conservation organizations.

The Machiguenga Community has constructed the Machiguenga Center for Tropical Studies, unique in that it is the only 100%-indigenous-owned rainforest lodge in the Amazon. As the owners of the lodge, the 100 families of Machiguenga Indians take rainforest conservation and their own rich cultural heritage very seriously.

Timpia is one of the largest and most politically-influential of the 22 titled Indian communities of the great, Manu-sized rainforest immediately downstream from the Pongo de Mainique canyon. This rainforest region, which currently is 99.4% forested, is known as the Lower Urubamba. The famous Urubamba River starts near Cusco in the Sacred Valley of the Incas flowing past Machu Picchu and then through the Pongo on its course to eventually become the Amazon River far to the north in Peru.

The Macaw Clay Licks of Timpia:
Kimaroari: 20 minutes by river from the Machiguenga Center for Tropical Research. Most large macaw licks have only one or two species of large macaws, but this one has all three species of large macaws: Blue-and-golds, Scarlets, and Greenwings (Red-and-greens).

Sabeti: A 250-foot-tall clay and rock bank a one-hour hike from the Center. In the early morning Blue-headed Pionus and White-eyed Conures congregate, followed by Amazons and Severe macaws. Scarlets, Greenwings, and Blue-and-gold Macaws eventually take over the lick.

"Megalick": Located 45-minutes by motorcanoe from the Center is the most exciting new clay lick for Blue-and-gold and Scarlet Macaws.

Macaw Clay Licks Manu Wilderness Top of Page

The Manu Wilderness Macaw Clay Lick:
The recent discovery of the Blanco River Clay Lick, a riverbank area on a narrow bend of the Blanco River located in the Manu Wilderness, affords one of the best vantage points to watch these magnificent birds in a natural environment. Viewing from a sheltered bird-blind on the opposite river bank the morning ritual involving hundreds of parrots proceeds without human interference.

About a 22-minute walk from the Manu Camping area this new, spectacular, parrot lick with a controlled terrestrial blind brings photographers and nature lovers to within 45 meters from the clay lick itself. This allows visitors to engage themselves with other wildlife activities knowing the best observation opportunities can be easily arranged for a variety of adventures.

Macaw Clay Licks Manu's Blanquillo Top of Page

Manu's Blanquillo Macaw Clay Lick:
Blanquillo is located off of the Madre de Dios River in a private nature reserve about 4 hours by motorized river-canoe east of the Manu Tourist Zone. Here a floating catamaran blind allows excellent opportunities to view emerald green and electric blue parrots and the gaudy Red-and-green Macaws that arrive by the hundreds to gobble down the clay. This mobile blind allows you to approach within 20-30 yards (18-27 m) of the 25-foot-tall (8-m-tall) clay bank for excellent photo opportunities.

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